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Reality – Film Review

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reality film review

It could have been called nothing else. Reality is the true story of Reality Winner, a linguist and former intelligence operative, who finds herself the subject of a warrant for mishandling of top secret information. Reality also circles the notion of reality, particularly with relation to film, as the script is verbatim from an interview that took place between two FBI agents and Reality. This is a reenactment, Crimewatch-style, of an actual conversation that took place. ‘Reality’, then, is just about the most perfect title ever for a movie.

We’re ashamed to say that we weren’t aware of Reality’s story. We’re not entirely sure why it bypassed us, but the ending of the movie might hold some clues. The media circus that followed the film’s events wasn’t interested in the information that was whistleblown, but it was fascinated with the whistleblower. We hope it’s not the case, but we wonder whether this is why we hadn’t heard Reality’s story.

Reality starts with Reality Winner (Sydney Sweeney, fresh from Euphoria and The White Lotus) coming home from work with groceries, ready to feed her cat and dog. But she doesn’t make it through her door. Waiting for her are Agents Garrick and Taylor, and they deny her entry, claiming that a search warrant has been issued for her, her car and house. She’s justifiably flustered, but goes along with it all.

We’ve watched enough American procedural TV to a) believe that we know what we’re talking about and b) shout at the screen for Reality to lawyer-up, but she does nothing of the sort. She lets them trample around her rental while worrying more about the emotional state of her cat and dog. As more agents arrive, she is taken into a back room for an interview. 

We feel like we actually benefited from knowing little about the case, so we’ll do the good deed of revealing very little. Because the question of whether Reality is guilty or not is not crystal clear. Reality is a film that opens outwards like an unwrapped origami, and the joy is finally seeing the message inside. 

We were on the fence at first. While it’s a fascinating proposition, to use a transcript as the script for an hour-and-a-half movie, we found it to be as immersion breaking as you can get. Every “um”, “ah” and fumble is present in the delivery, and while the actors manfully try to make them believable, it’s just not Hollywood. We’ve been trained to accept perfect dictation and delivery as being real, for better or worse, so seeing actors deliver barely coherent sentences felt distracting. People talk like this: actors don’t. 

There was a nagging sense that the actors didn’t believe – or understand – the words that were coming out of their mouths, either. They are given the impossible task of guessing what the real people behind the words were intending with a half-baked thought. You can see apologies in the actors’ eyes as they tell bad jokes or fumble through small-talk, simply because the script tells them to. Again, we felt distracted. 

But as soon as the action moved inside Reality’s house, something clicked for us. Partly that’s down to attrition: we’d finally calibrated to what Reality was trying to do, and we learned to stop worrying and love the one-to-one transcription. But it’s also because the small-talk gets swapped out for real-talk, and it’s clearly Agent Garrick and Taylor’s speciality. They’re not great conversationalists, they’re great interrogators, and the dialogue flows with the lucidity of a Hollywood script. 

Procedural crime fans should be first in the queue to watch Reality. Watching CSI or NCIS has the whiff of artifice, and we’ve never truly believed them. With Reality, we have that belief. You can see all of the tricks and empathetic games played by the agents, as they meander towards a resolution. They take their time, are careful not to undermine their case in any form, and finally the information stacks up. We loved this lens on Reality: seeing how competent law-enforcement works is a bit of a treat.

The craft is unshowy but perfect for what the movie needs. Sydney Sweeney does a superb job of leaving her guilt or innocence up for debate, all while fluttering between impatience and resignation. Tina Satter, directing and (technically) writing her first movie in Reality, is light-touch but with some fantastic signatures. Redacted elements of the script are handled with a kind of visual white noise, which feels clever and arresting. The camera never strays away from the incidental small-talk, either. It zooms right in, finding human touches in the botched attempts to connect. 

Reality felt more like an experiment at first: one that wanted to constantly announce that it was an experiment. We couldn’t get comfortable and immerse ourselves, as the script and performances were two separate elements that weren’t meshing. We worried that Reality was becoming a bit of a stunt.

But the experiment melted away in the second half, and what was left was well worth experiencing. Reality doesn’t overly commit to a particular side, and it lets you apply your own indignation. We emerged feeling there was something deeply wrong with America, and Reality did a superb job of probing at its wounds. We came away angry, and that’s a rare emotion to leave a film with. 

The big question for us, though, was whether we’d have done the same as Reality Winner. We think that we would, but who can tell until reality hits?

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • A unique take on true tales
  • More people should know Reality’s story
  • Works well as a crime procedural
  • Sydney Sweeney’s performance grounds everything
Cons:
  • The originality is initially distracting
  • Moments don’t feel real
Info:
  • Purchased by TXH
  • Running time and release date - 1hr 22mins | 2023
  • To rent/buy - £3.49/£9.99 SD, £4.49/£9.99 HD
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>A unique take on true tales</li> <li>More people should know Reality’s story</li> <li>Works well as a crime procedural</li> <li>Sydney Sweeney’s performance grounds everything</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>The originality is initially distracting</li> <li>Moments don’t feel real</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Purchased by TXH</li> <li>Running time and release date - 1hr 22mins | 2023 <li>To rent/buy - £3.49/£9.99 SD, £4.49/£9.99 HD</li> </ul>Reality - Film Review
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